Standing in a Wentworth classroom, Richard Blanco seems a little out of place, as if he’s been miscast as a writer playing a professor at a leading engineering school.

But this acclaimed writer and son of Cuban exiles—years before he delivered his poem “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration—began his career as a civil engineer.

Combined, these disparate bits of Blanco’s background made him highly effective at the Institute this summer as a guest instructor for a course called The Human Engineer. The class, for engineering majors, was designed to bypass the nuts and bolts of building and construction, and focused directly on the humanities and social sciences.

Students in the class learned that all engineers need a solid working knowledge of subjects like history, ethics, economics, sociology, politics, culture, and language.

They had to create a vision plan for a simulated land-use project, but were instructed to focus on things like interacting with municipal boards and grasping a community’s history and culture.

They also had to compose a poem, says Blanco, because engineers cannot hope to prepare professional project proposals without practicing skills like sentence construction and precise word selection.

“This is not an engineering design project,” he said. “This is all of the stuff that comes before that.”

Offered for the first time this summer, The Human Engineer was conceived by Gloria Monaghan, a Wentworth professor of humanities and social sciences and published poet.

The course featured individual class segments with Blanco and a dozen Wentworth professors with expertise from gender equality to poetry, political science, philosophy, and physics.

Ronald R. Bernier, the head of the Institute’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences who co-taught the class with Blanco, said the course was experimental and unprecedented at the Institute.

Igor Gojkovic, BBME ’16, said students were impressed with the course’s approach.

“I appreciated the whole idea of bringing these various faculty perspectives together in this one course,” Gojkovic said. “As engineers we work in the material world, but there’s so much more to life in general.”

Dennis Nealon